Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
Jeremiah 6:16 (ESV)
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11 ESV)
The Way of the Lord: the Ancient Path of Hebrew Spirituality
There is a path to God, a path that is surprisingly overlooked by many in the Christian church in the West. Nevertheless, it is well worn path, an ancient path that was revealed to the early Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are the main characters of what is called by many the Old Testament scriptures.
This may sound provocative, perhaps even theologically absurd! An ancient path? A path overlooked? Is this another ‘secret knowledge’ theory? Am I suggesting that the theological experts and great spiritual thinkers of our day have missed what I have now seen? Hardly!
The issue that I am describing is the very common one of ‘not seeing the forest for the trees.’ For many religious or spiritual people it is very difficult to see past the assumptions and conclusions of our upbringing and early training. We see what we expect to see unless we are forced (or invited) to reassess our assumptions and look at the data from a new angle.
For many religious people the church traditions and teachings (whether global and historic like Catholicism or Evangelical Protestantism, or local and recent like ‘what they teach in the church or group I belong to’) are all about a priority for believing certain true and correct things. In practical terms, all the focus is placed here. What is missing is a focus on the life with God that is to be lived out on the foundation of these ‘truths’ and ‘correct things.’ What are intended to be helpful to defining and guiding our relationship with the Living God often are turned into replacements for relationship with him.
I am suggesting that if we return to the source material of the bible, and we look at what it contains from a fresh perspective, we find something very, very old. I have found that it is a perspective on God, on ourselves, on the experience of life on this planet that opens the door to hope for a new kind of life in the here and now.
Here is an overview of this biblical perspective:
A major subplot line* in story of the Bible: God’s strategy to fix a broken creation.
Plot summary of the biblical story: Mankind has lost its way but God has provided a path that leads back home.
- Sin in the Garden of Eden was an act of rebellion and unbelief. One consequence of this was that it broke the intimate relationship mankind enjoyed with the Creator and disrupted their ability to live true life.
- The result was death, sickness, discord with one another, and every kind of brokenness and destruction. These things are now commonplace in our experience in the world.
- God’s plan to rescue and restore His creation began with one man (Abraham) and his family. God solemnly promised that through them He would produce the ultimate and final solution to the tragedy in the Garden of Eden. Through an amazing effort on God’s part humanity can be restored to proper relationship with God and to the true life they were created to live. The story of the bible is the story of what God did to accomplish this feat.
- At the beginning of this story we encounter a key theme in God’s strategy: the Way of the Lord.
God singled out Abraham so that he would direct his family to keep the “Way of the Lord.” God’s plan and His promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham hinged on this.
“I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD and do what is right and just. Then I will do for him all that I have promised.”
The Struggle to Stay on the Way of the Lord
As the story unfolds in the bible we find God speaking and working among his people to complete the job he assigned to Abraham. All did not go well, or easily. But amazingly, as the story unfolds we find that God had a plan and that plan ultimately culminated in the life and work of Jesus.
- Psalm 81:13 – Abraham’s family (Israel) failed to follow the Way of the Lord. As a result they suffered the consequences of their foolishness and rebellion over and over again. They also forfeited the blessings and benefits of true life in God.
- II Chronicles 6:26, 27 – Yet, hope was continually offered to rebellious Israel. They were promised that if they turned back to God He would teach them and help them to walk in the Way of the Lord and be restored to true life in God.
- Matthew 22:16 – The Pharisees correctly recognized that Jesus was busy teaching the people about the Way of God (i.e., the Way of the Lord).
- John 14:6 – Not only did Jesus faithfully teach the people about the Way of the Lord, he said that he himself was the perfect embodiment of it; he was “the Way!”
- Acts 9:2 – The first follower’s of Jesus naturally took this as their identity and were known as the Followers of the Way. Their movement was know as “the Way”. (See also, Acts 18:25; 19:9, 23; 22:4)
- Ephesians 4:20-24 – The life and experience of Jesus’ followers is generally characterized as a process of exchanging the “old way” for the “new.” The old ways must be abandoned and replaced with the Way of the Lord if True Life is to flourish. (See also, Col. 3:12-14; Eph. 3:16-19; 2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Only God’s persistence and patience could ultimately complete the task of teaching His people how to walk in His ways. The sign posts and the map for this path are found throughout the pages of the Bible. While not claiming to have seen it all, or even to have understood it all, this blog contains some of what I’ve found and my best understanding about how to live and walk with God in the everyday life.
To help myself (and perhaps you, too) I’ve organized the basic elements I’m calling The Way the Lord into five (5) big categories**. This blog uses these categories as an organizing structure.
- ONE Allegiance
- TWO Purposes
- THREE Roles
- FOUR Guiding Beliefs
- FIVE Daily Practices
In my personal life this is how I now think about everything. All of my reality – God, work, family, personal time management, etc. – is all organized, analyzed and made sense of within the context of this organizing structure. In effect, the Way of the Lord provides what I need to live a real life.
As a pastor and teacher and elder in the Christian community, the Way of the Lord, as I’m describing it, has become the organizing principle for everything I preach or teach or counsel. No more ‘hot topic’ of the month; living life with God is no longer a ‘moving target.’ The dots are connected, the interrelationships are more clear, the forces at work are more identifiable, and the life to be lived more achievable with this perspective on the Bible in hand.
I hope you find help and encouragement, as I have, to think and live your life with God more fully and more deliberately as you explore the details of the Way of the Lord.
* I am calling this a subplot line in the story, because it is a key part of an even bigger story. The big story line, the over-arching narrative of the Bible is the story of how God restores the total of Creation to his rule, reestablishing it in the unity of his original creation design, fully and wonderfully restored in complete submission to his loving will and good purposes. See N.T. Wright on this.
What I am calling The Way of the Lord, is the subplot concerning how this affects the individual lives of people like us in our day to day lives. The big and cosmic ideas are important, but you don’t get up in the morning and dive right in!
What is missing for many of us is knowing how to put the big ideas into action in the little things of everyday life. The Way of the Lord is the everyday path we walk, while God gets on with the work of moving heaven and earth toward to the ultimate restoration of all things.
** I’m not claiming that this organization of five big categories is presented as such in the Bible. Rather it is a way of organizing the main themes and issues that came together for me as I prayed and reflected on the years and years of study of, meditation in and application of the Bible in my own life. I was asking God for a way to see the core ideas and practices across the whole of the Bible that directly addressed our life with him as it is to be lived in this world on a day by day basis. Over the last 10 years or so, as I live and work and pray and walk it out using this way of organizing the main ideas of the Bible, I continue to find it to be an extremely helpful way to order my thoughts, interpret my circumstances, focus my prayer, and apply my efforts to the practical matters of living as a disciple of Jesus.
- What we ‘do’ does matter.
- There may be more to this ‘Christianity’ thing than you thought.
- Something is terribly wrong.